by Charlie Seltzer, MD
Has anyone ever told you that in order to get ripped, you must eliminate fruit?
I know many physique competitors who completely cut fruit from their nutrition plans, even months away from a contest, out of fear that fruit will limit the amount of fat they can lose – or even cause them to gain weight.
Where does this reasoning come from, and most importantly, is it correct?
What Is Fruit?
According to botany (the study of plants) fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant. It is usually sweet. Vegetables, on the other hand, are all other plant parts, such as roots, leaves and stems.
In the context of food, certain “vegetables,” like eggplant and bell peppers are actually fruits, and some foods, such as tomatoes, have properties of both fruits and vegetables. For this article, I use the term fruit to describe what you probably think of when someone says the word fruit (berries, apples, papaya, etc.), though technically speaking avocados, cucumbers, and olives are all fruit as well.
Where Does The “Fruit Makes You Fat” Idea Come From?
Many people who believe fruit makes you fat adhere to the principles of “broscience,” which Urban Dictionary accurately defines as “the predominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where the anecdotal reports of jacked dudes are considered more credible than scientific research.” In this case, while hearing what others have to say is generally a good thing, it’s important to understand that genetically gifted or “assisted” individuals often look the way they do in spite of their approach, not because of it.
Others believe the fructose (a type of sugar found in fruit) causes fat gain. Some studies suggest that fructose ingestion leads to insulin resistance, elevated blood cholesterol levels and increased fat gain, especially in the abdominal area.1 Additionally, fructose lowers the amount of insulin released in response to meals. This in turn lowers the circulating levels of the hormone leptin, which is responsible for increasing feelings of fullness and raises the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin.2 This scenario can lead to excess calorie consumption, which can cause fat gain.
Several studies show an association between beverages containing fructose (or high fructose corn syrup, which is not found in nature) and weight gain.3 4 However, there is good research that suggests it is the calories from the sugar and not the particular type of sugar that is responsible for the weight gain.5 6
Additionally, fruit contains relatively low levels of fructose compared to sweetened beverages. For example, a medium apple contains around 13 grams of fructose7 and 90 calories. A 20-ounce Coke has 65 grams of sugar, about half of which is fructose, and 240 calories. (And, yes, the calories should be 260 , due to 4 calories per gram of sugar. I couldn’t find an explanation for this discrepancy.)
If Fruit Doesn’t Make You Fat, What Does?
Excess calories cause weight gain. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight no matter where the calories come from. So does fruit make you fat? It can in the sense that if you eat too much of it (or too much of anything) you will gain weight. If you eat higher calorie fruits like bananas you will be more likely to put on weight than if you eat lower calorie fruits like strawberries.
Fruit is packed with nutrients, has a high water content that makes it filling, and contains fiber. In moderation, fruit is an excellent choice as a healthy source of carbohydrates.
- Basciano H, Federico L, Adeli K. Fructose, Insulin Resistance, and Metabolic Dyslipidemia. Nutr Metab. (Lond). 2005; 2:5. ↩
- Teff Kl, Elliott SS, Tschop M, Kieffer TJ, Rader D, Heiman M, Townsend RR, Keim NL, D’Alessio D, Havel PJ. Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jun; 89(6): 2963-72. ↩
- Malik V, Schulze M, Hu F. Intake of sugar sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. Aug 2006; 84(2); 274-88. ↩
- Schulze M, Manson J, Ludwig D, Colditz G, Stampfer M, Willet W, Hu F. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. JAMA. 2004; 292(8): 927-34. ↩
- Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, Mirrahimi A, Yu ME, Carleton AJ, Beyene J, Chiavaroli L, Di Buono M, Jenkins AL, Leiter LA, Wolever TM, Kendall CW, Jenkins DJ. Effect of fructose on bodyweight in controlled feeding trials: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Feb 21;156(4): 291-394. ↩
- Forshee R, Storey M, Allison D, Glinsmann W, Hein G, Lineback D, Miller S, Nicklas T, Weaver G, White J. A critical examination of evidence relating high fructose corn syrup and weight gain. Food Sci Nutr. 2007; 47(6). ↩
- High fructose corn syrup is made from fructose bonded to glucose, aka dextrose. The ratios generally come in 42% or 55% fructose. Interestingly, table sugar is made up of equal parts fructose and glucose. ↩